It's been a wild week in the NHL with the Evander Kane situation changing seemingly by the hour. Let's review.
- The San Jose Sharks announced on Jan. 8 that they had placed the 30-year-old winger on unconditional waivers for his second violation of COVID-19 protocols this season as a member of the club's AHL affiliate, the Barracuda. His contract was officially terminated on Jan. 9. Kane was originally suspended in October for reportedly using a fake vaccine card.
- The NHLPA immediately stated its intention that it would file a grievance on Kane's behalf, challenging the Sharks' decision to terminate Kane's contract.
- According to Sportnet's Elliotte Friedman on Jan. 11, the Edmonton Oilers were in serious contention to sign Kane as an unrestricted free agent.
- When asked directly about signing Kane, Oilers general manager Ken Holland said, "I believe in second chances." Oilers captain Connor McDavid was also open to having him join in Edmonton.
- On Jan. 12, Friedman reported that Kane was under league investigation for the process of crossing the U.S.-Canadian border in December. The investigation would likely delay any team from signing Kane in the near term.
So where does this leave Kane and Sharks? How did we get into this situation in the first place? And what will happen next?
Let's take a closer look at the entire situation.
Why was a former 30-goal scorer in the prime of his career playing in the AHL in the first place?
After being suspended in October for reportedly having a fake vaccine card, Kane was playing in the AHL for the first time in his career as the Sharks sought a trade partner that never materialized. Kane had worn out his welcome in the Sharks locker room, with several teammates saying they didn't want him back for the 2021-22 campaign.
Trading him also would have required them to retain much of his $7 million yearly salary, since Kane is in the fourth year of a seven-year, $49 million contract. His time in the AHL wasn't without controversy either, as the club questioned his commitment to the Barracuda after he missed practices with what he called a sore shoulder and food poisoning, according to The Athletic.
What caused the Sharks to release Kane?
The Sharks said they terminated Kane's contract "for breach of his NHL standard player contract and for violation of the AHL COVID-19 protocols. It's important to note that the club probably could not have terminated his contract had the league not agreed that there was a breach of contract terms.
The NHLPA did not see the situation the same way, but that was to be expected.
Just a few months after being named the Sharks' player of the year, the team decided it was better off without the distraction, even if that meant losing his prolific offensive production.
Has Kane been involved in other troubling incidents?
Kane has long had a history of on- and off-ice issues that range from clashes with his own teammates to conflicts with officials to arrests.
The fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, Kane was sued for assault damages in 2014 as a member of the Winnipeg Jets. He was scratched after an incident with his teammates. He publicly stated that he felt the team didn't have his back and traded away its problem.
In July 2016 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, he was sued by a 21-year-old woman who claimed he invited her to a party in the Buffalo hotel room where he was living and attacked her. Later that month he was arrested after allegedly harassing three women at a Buffalo bar. He was later cleared of all charges.
Kane has also missed practices—once to go to the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto—he was scratched for violating the Jets' dress code, he's been late to practices, and teammates and coaches have found him to be unaccountable. Former Sabres general manager Tim Murray said Kane's involvement in highly publicized incidents like bar fights brought negative attention to the organization.
Last year, his estranged wife, Anna Kane, posted a series of Instagram stories accusing her husband of domestic abuse, gambling on NHL games and even throwing games. While Kane does have a history of gambling, as is evidenced by his bankruptcy that stemmed from gambling debts, the league cleared him of any wrongdoing, and he and his wife dropped their domestic violence restraining orders against one another
Who is interested in signing Kane?
Frank Seravalli of DailyFaceoff.com reported on Jan. 12 that as many as 16 teams have shown interest in Kane. The Oilers appeared to be the most interested in him. However, there is a chance that Kane probably would not be able to help a team in need of him for a playoff push.
Kane and his agent, Dan Milstein, were interviewing with teams before deputy commissioner Bill Daly sent out a memo saying the league was opening an investigation into his cross-border travel.
The Canadian government does not allow people to board a "public flight" within 15 days of receiving a positive COVID-19 test. Failure to comply with the Canadian federal Quarantine Act could result in "fines, imprisonment or both." Kane allegedly tested positive on Dec. 21 and traveled on Dec. 29.
Aside from the legal ramifications, Kane could be subjected to disciplinary action by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, which could mean that any team that signs him wouldn't be able to use him right away. Kane was already suspended for 21 games for the first COVID-19 infraction, so if he's suspended again it could be in the range of 30-40 games, which would bring him right about to the start of the postseason.
Why do so many teams seem willing to sign Kane?
Kane is capable of scoring 20-30 goals per season, and scorers like that will always be coveted. There is no question Kane is a talented winger who could boost the offensive production of any lineup.
Financially, it's a low-risk move since a team could negotiate a short-term contract.
Should a team still sign him?
McDavid seemed somewhat noncommittal when asked about the situation Wednesday night.
"I'm not really here to discuss optic issues," he said. "If fans don't like it or the media doesn't like it, I think, whatever. It is what it is. There are a lot of things that go on on the ice that fans don't like and we don't necessarily have to discuss those up here with you guys.
"The public opinion is something that matters a lot, but we're here to try and win games and put a good team on the ice."
McDavid and his teammate, Leon Draisaitl, badly need help. The team has shown a remarkable inability to produce offense without those two on the ice, and goaltenders Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen have struggled. The roster has had several COVID-19-related absences and the team is right up against the cap, so Kane would be a way to bring in offense for cheap.
If the captain says it's not a big deal, then the rest of the locker room will have to take the same approach, at least publicly. But privately, it's a different story.
There will always be players who place a high value on team chemistry and accountability. There will always be young, impressionable players on their entry-level contracts because this is a salary-cap league. Can the Oilers afford to keep Kane around emerging young defenseman Evan Bouchard? Can any team afford to have a player known for being late or skipping practices around its top prospects?
It's possible that Kane is, in fact, a better teammate than we are seeing on Twitter. Along with Akim Aliu, Kane was a co-founder of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. However, he took a "voluntary leave" from the organization in August after Anna Kane's allegations became public.
But one could also argue that continually putting organizations in positions to defend his actions and leaving teams short-handed because of things like suspensions makes him a poor teammate.
There are some executives who have decided against signing Kane, even at a fraction of the cost. But if a team is that desperate for offensive production and it feels as though it has the structure and leadership to keep him on track, or that a playoff run would motivate him, then it may think otherwise.
It all depends on the outcome of the league's investigation and then what an independent arbitrator decides regarding his contract with the Sharks. For now, everything is on hold, which adds yet another layer to an already complicated situation.